Writer Shannon Severson

Photography Courtesy of Creative Center of Scottsdale

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]emember finger-painting on the linoleum floors of your childhood kitchen? In our carefree younger days, we didn’t worry about the task of cleanup. Instead, we were totally immersed in the joy of creation: swirling colors spreading across the floor, our hands, our clothing. It was messy nirvana. 

Creative Center of Scottsdale was established as a place of community where tenants are free to spread out, make a mess, operate a small business or work on a hobby.

An animal photographer with a background in graphic design, Michelle Biely was inspired to establish the center by her own talented circle of friends.

“I needed a photography studio for my own work,” says Biely. “I had friends who needed space to do woodworking, music and architecture, and one who just needed a small office from which to start a non-profit. I realized there was no place for the average person to work on their passions, particularly if they’re just starting out or aren’t well-known in their field. Artists need a place to make a mess.”

Biely offers more than just license to artistically let loose. Creative Center of Scottsdale is a collaborative community.

“The people I’m catering to want a community,” explains Biely. “They want to bounce ideas off of each other, to have an exchange of ideas.”

The center’s bright open space speaks to its purpose. In fact, it was a gathering place for many years in its original iterations: Mandel’s Shooting Range and Supplies and Sip knitting shop were fixtures in Old Town Scottsdale for decades. 

Biely has installed roll-up glass garage doors at either end of the building, opened up the ceilings to show off the exposed beams and for light to stream in through clerestory windows. Original plank floors of unknown origin – “No one could figure out what type of wood they are,” says Biely – and items left behind by the previous owners have been utilized.

“I love the history and feel of this space,” says Biely. “It’s an iconic building and I wanted to keep as much of it as I possibly could. I kept the old signs, the windows from the knitting shop with original paint, and an interior bullet-proof glass window.”

Biely’s friends skillfully produced art and furniture from a table built from old ammunition crates and shell casings abandoned by past owners. Storage cabinets were made by repurposing the gun shop’s stock drawers, which were handmade by the son of the original owner. Some drawers still have labels attached. A massive old walk-in safe is now an ideal (and very secure) area for stashing extra supplies.

“I have a huge safe in my office,” says Biely. “No one knows how it got in, and they were worried it would crash right through the floor if they tried to move it. The building was probably built around the safe.”

In the basement, the former shooting range tubes now hold kegs for Goldwater Brewing Company next door. The space is occasionally used as a second bar.

What’s not repurposed in the center is created from locally sourced, sustainable materials. The building is compliant with Scottsdale green building construction codes, minimizing environmental impact and reducing energy consumption. 

While much of the space is open and undivided, there are three private enclosed studios with opaque glass walls designed and created by Arizona’s own DIRTT Environmental Solutions. 

A rooftop patio was added and the rear parking lot is strung with overhead lights so that it can double as an event space. Biely says it has been the site of weddings, fundraisers, pop-up art shows and even yoga classes.

Tenants choose between renting a 10-foot square space on a month-to-month basis, or an annual lease for a private studio. There is always a staff member on-site during business hours to keep art and supplies secure.

Biely recounts a litany of the artistic talents who have made the center their creative home over the years: sculptors, clothing designers, stained glass workers, mixed media artists, vloggers, non-profits and even a milliner. 

Before she even began construction, Biely won a Best of Phoenix Award for her concept of taking people’s dreams out of garages and off kitchen tables and bringing them into a studio space that would become home to a family of innovators and creators.

“There wasn’t a place like this before,” says Biely. “We have built an amazing community.”